Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution

Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution

Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution

Taken for a Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution


Doyle, who has been a consultant to the President's Council on Environmental Quality, details how the U.S. auto industry--particularly the Detroit big three auto makers: General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler--misled the American people and Congress about cars' harmful emissions. Illustrations.


... Inherently, the internal combustion engine can never be a clean machine....

--Frank Stead, former chief, California Division of Environmental Sanitation, 1969

The late 1960s were a tumultuous time in the United States. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated, the Viet Nam war was raging, and authority was being challenged by a younger generation. The seeds of the modern environmental movement had already been planted with Rachel Carson's 1962 publication of Silent Spring, a landmark book exposing the ecological dangers of pesticide chemistry. Up on Capitol Hill in 1965, a young lawyer named Ralph Nader was raking General Motors over the coals for its unsafe Corvair. Detroit was into its "muscle car" era, as Pontiac GTOs, Ford Mustangs, and Dodge Chargers roamed the nation's streets and highways.

Despite the passage of updated federal air quality laws in 1965 and 1967, air pollution was becoming a growing national problem. In November 1966, an air pollution episode in New York city led to eighty deaths and a declaration of emergency by GovernorNelson Rockefeller (R). California had already passed its own pollution control act. Of the estimated 146 million tons of pollutants discharged into the US atmosphere in 1966, nearly 60 percent--86 million tons--came from motor vehicles. The average car, travelling 10,000 miles annually without pollution controls, spewed 1,700 pounds of carbon monoxide, 520 pounds of hydrocarbons, and 90 pounds of nitrogen oxides. Automobiles were also the major source of lead pollutants. Depending on the particular city or county, 60 to 80 percent of atmospheric pollution was attributed to motor vehicles--in some places, like Orange County, California, the motor vehicle's share was over 95 percent.


On Capitol Hill, a unusual series of Senate hearings began in early 1967 probing automobile pollution. These hearings were focused on alternatives to the internal com-

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